Summary: Joining with others to follow Christ is the clear model for Christian living according to Paul. We need examples to follow, fellow followers to journey with, and to be examples for others to follow. Many will not do it. You and I must!

Happy New Year Signal Mountain! Welcome to the first Sunday of 2012!

This is a good time of year to look back and see where we’ve been, look around and see where we are, and look ahead to see where we need to go next. But the first thing to do is look up and acknowledge our sovereign God who holds it all in His hands and knows the end from the beginning. We need to look at His book to get the big picture to guide us. We need to keep coming back to the Bible, spending time with God, both alone and together with others as we continue our journey home to glory.

At our traditional family Christmas gathering with Jenny’s side of the family, somebody always brings a puzzle (usually 1000 piece) to put together as part of the festivities. Later, Jenny’s mom will frame it and put it on the wall in their family room where there are over 14 Christmas puzzles on the walls representing the spirit of each Christmas past. Every one has the year of that particular Christmas printed on it with the theme of that year’s Christmas.

Putting together a puzzle illustrates how we build our lives in Christ. First: To do a puzzle we need to look at the box for the big picture. That’s where we see what the finished product is supposed to look like, once it’s all put together properly. As a Christian, what image am I to look upon and fix my eyes on? What image am I to become? Phil. 3:21, 1 John 3:1-3, 1 Cor. 15:49 all tell us. As Hebrews 12:2 and Col. 3:1-3 state: Jesus is our ultimate image! To follow Jesus we need to look in the Book for the big picture... reading your Bible and seeing God’s big plan for your life.

Second, for a puzzle, we usually dump out all the pieces and turn them all face up so you can see their shapes and colors. To follow Christ that’s like starting the Christian life, turning all the pieces of my life upward to Him, repenting and committing to follow Jesus in faith and obedience. But what are we turning from and who are we turning to? Lke 15:11-24, Acts 26:18-20 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 all tell us. We turn from death to life, from lost to found, from darkness to light. To do this we look to Christ, listen to Christ, learn from Christ and decide to live for Christ. We commit to Jesus by faith and baptism into Christ and the journey is begun.

Third... Normally, with a puzzle we start by gathering all the pieces with a flat edge on them to put together our boarders and boundaries. These are the outside edges or the boundaries of the puzzle. In following Christ, that’s like the first steps of faith as a Christian. 2 Peter 1:5-9, 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 and Ephesians 6:10f give us clear instructions about building our behaviors and boundaries in Christ. Peter insturcts us in adding to our faith so that we never fall but are fruitful, Paul tells the Corinthians to come out from darkness into light and walk separately from the world. We must honor the distinction between the saved and the lost! And we mush arm ourselves against the enemy of Christ. We put begin to build boundaries in our behavior, doing what is right and resisting what is wrong. We put together our Christian first principles and start putting on the armor of God.

Fourth... With a puzzle, then comes the tedious part of finding where all the inner parts fit together. Puzzle pieces are designed to fit together just right. You can’t do it your way and come out with the right image. Sometimes you have to search and study to discover what goes where. In following Christ that’s like God’s work on building the image of Christ into your heart and mind. Look at Philippians 2:5-11 and notice how Paul imitates Christ in Phil. 3:7-13. This is our example too. We must humble ourselves like Jesus, and obey without resistance to God’s will, no matter what. That takes patience and faith. It also takes careful observation, understanding and then putting those together to work. Like a puzzle, you really need to study the box over and over as you work to figure out where to put those pieces and be encouraged that it will all come together if we persist. We must constantly turn our eyes and hearts and minds to Jesus and consider Him as we put into practice His commands and put on His image. Jesus tells us: Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life!

And like our Christmas puzzles. As Christians we are not alone on the journey. At Jenny’s family gathering, there are lots of helpers working together and making the work a joy. We join together and find a lot of enjoyment just doing it as a family.

That’s also an illustration of what we’ve been doing in our study of Philippians. This little letter has given us four models to live by: Christ, Timothy, Epaphroditus, Paul and Christ again. These are our mentors and models for the life God calls us to. When we live for Christ in unity and love with others it makes the work and journey a joy. This unity is a major theme of Philippians and, indeed, of the entire Word of God. Love God and love others, these are the greatest commandments and they build the image of Christ in us.

Last week we looked at Jesus Christ as our model for life in Philippians 2:5-11. We’ve seen that throughout this letter Christ is our purpose, our pattern, our prize and our power. Our one singular focus - drawing all into one body and one Christian family- is Christ.

Today’s lesson comes on the heels of Paul’s passionate proclamation of his quest to know Christ and be like him. Paul is putting the inner Christ-like pieces together in his life and calls us to join him in doing the same. But then... he gives us a warning. Not everyone wants to be part of this. Some people just don’t like puzzles and some people just don’t like the Cross of Christ. These will destroy the unity and love of the family of God. They work against the image of Christ who brings all together in Himself. What do we learn from this? Let’s see.

Our text again, is Philippians 3:17-4:1

In this text we see an appeal to look at examples of those who are walking faithfully! We are given two commands here. Do you see them?

First, Paul says, "JOIN WITH OTHERS in following my example..." This is an instruction and encouragement to GET TOGETHER WITH OTHERS and do things the way he does them, to be the way he is, and to live the way he lives.

Second he says, (Let me give you a literal translation): Mark the ones thus walking as ye have an example... us. Look at the model we have shown you. Notice how others are following this... now you be sure you are doing what we do too! Look around you in this church family. Who is doing what Paul says here? Who is following Jesus Christ’s example and the examples of others who are faithful? Paul says: Notice them and be like them. Paul says, "Be like me!"

This is true leadership! Paul is not someone who sits in his office and dreams up work for others to do. He’s not just a coach on the sidelines, Paul is a player on the field, calling to those he teaches: Let’s go! Follow me! Do what I do! Act like I act! Pray like I pray! Talk like I talk! Love God like I love God! Be faithful to Jesus like I am faithful to Jesus! Come together as one in this way.

Not only does Paul want us to follow his own example, but also the examples of others who are doing the same thing that he is doing. This is how Christian unity works! It is a fellowship of followers! You are not alone! You both need others who are faithful and you are commanded to get together with them, to join with them. We need to join with others and follow Christ-like mentors and to be Christ-like mentors to others!

Where do you think Paul learned this kind of mentoring technique?

Jesus Christ! Jesus came here and said to us, "Follow me!" Jesus leads us by example! Jesus is God with skin on. He came here to call us together and call us to walk with Him as one. He did whatever it took to fulfill God’s will. Jesus left heavenly riches and became poor so that we might become rich. Jesus took off divine glory and became a servant so that we could serve with him and put on divine glory. Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death and was exalted to the highest place so that we would humble ourselves and become obedient unto death and God would exalt us to be with Jesus. Jesus, the image of God for us all, paid for our sins on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to. Jesus died so we could live. Jesus was wounded so we could be healed. These are examples for us, so that we may suffer with Christ in order that we may be glorified with him.

Jesus says, "Follow me! Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me!"

Who is your teacher? Who are you following? Who are your fellow followers? Who is following you? These are all questions we should be able to answer.

But now we see the bad news. Why does there always seem to be bad news and dangers? I hate to say it, but it’s true.

Some people just don’t like the cross and what it stands for. I said, "some people" but what’s the count? The Bible says here: There are MANY who are enemies of the cross.

This sounds like Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount. In Matthew chapter 7 as he is coming to the end of the sermon Jesus presses for decision and obedient action: Enter the narrow gate for broad is the gate and wide is the path that leads to destruction and MANY go that way. How many? MANY! But small is the gate and narrow is the path that leads to life and only a few find it. How many find life? FEW! You be among the FEW!!!

There is danger Jesus said: Beware of false teachers that come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are greedy wolves. How will you know them? By their fruits! Jesus declares: Not everyone that says to me "Lord! Lord! will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. MANY (there’s the count again) will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name do many mighty works? And I will say to them: "I never knew you! Depart from me you workers of lawlessness!"

Many go the broad way of destruction! Many claim the name of Jesus and do impressive things in Jesus’ name, but are actually enemies of the cross! NOW THAT OUGHT TO GET OUR ATTENTION!

Here in Philippians Paul shows us that there are enemies of the cross, and what they look like.

Look with me at verse 18-19.

After all that Paul says about rejoicing, here is something tragic. Here is something he weeps about. Many, he says, are enemies of the cross of Christ. There are many people who not only will not follow Jesus, many who will be lost! How sad! But worse! There are many who will claim the name of Jesus, but still do not do the Father’s will. These many make it even harder on the few who want to follow Jesus, because these false Christians claim to be Christians and they draw others after themselves! Listen to 2 Peter 2:1-2.

Nothing worse could be said of anyone than that they are an enemy of the cross of Christ!

What do enemies of the cross look like?

Listen to Phil 3:19. It speaks of four distinctive things NOT to follow:

Their end is destruction, their god is their stomach, their glory is in their shame, their minds are on earthly things.

These are exact opposites of the true disciples.

Their end is eternal exaltation in life, their God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, their glory is in the cross, and the imitation of the Lord Jesus Christ, their minds are on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Paul could go on and on about this, but he doesn’t. Notice in Philippians that Paul quickly turns from discussing these enemies of the cross and returns to focusing on the joy of Christ.

Phil. 3:20-4:1

But! Our citizenship is in heaven! Our focus is on Jesus Christ as we eagerly wait for His return. Why? Because we know that He comes, it will be with power to transform our humiliated, lowly bodies into His glorious body!

This is how you should stand firm! In hope of exaltation through the power and glory of Jesus Christ!

Remember the big picture in the book! We who belong to Jesus Christ win! Big! Very big.